Locking the two popes into one flawed news template

As has been our practice since day one, your GetReligionistas rarely write posts about editorials, op-ed pages or opinion stories. There are exceptions, however. Unfortunately, the most common exceptions are when we write about opinion essays and analysis pieces that are supposed to be, or are alleged to be, news stories.

Another exception, however, is when a journalist or religion pro writes an editorial piece that is about a crucial issue directly linked to our turf -- the state of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press. From time to time, we will pass along a chunk or two of that kind of piece and point readers toward the whole text.

This is one of those times.

As the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway noted the other day, Pope Francis has been doing a smashing job of freaking out mainstream journalists by serving up healthy doses of orthodox Catholic doctrine -- often straight out of the Catechism -- with a more casual and surprisingly quotable style and, above all, a more cheerful tone.

I read a lot of Catholic blogs and, truth be told, there are a few Catholic conservatives out there who are not fond of this new pope's style. There are also scores of traditional Catholics online who are getting tired of the press producing blaring headlines suggesting that Pope Francis has uttered radical, progressive proclamations when a careful parsing of his words shows that he has not.

But more than anything, lots of conservative Catholics are getting really tired of press reports that contrast the DOCTRINAL content of Pope Francis' words and actions with the actual DOCTRINE proclaimed by, all together now, the bookish, formal and (insert derogatory adjective here) patriarch Pope Benedict XVI.

Over at the New Liturgical Movement website, editor Jeffrey Tucker finally blew a gasket. After praising the content of the new papacy, and admitting he is a bit tired of the style, he gets down to business:

Here is what has been going on and has from day one. Hardly anything that Pope Francis does goes uncompared with Benedict XVI. Francis holds a press conference and this fact is compared with the supposed aloofness and severity of his predecessor. He carries a briefcase and this is proclaimed as an astonishing act of service-based humility (which, hint hint, his predecessor did not display). He rides in a compact car instead of a sedan and this is supposed to be an unprecedented and revolutionary display of rebuke to the whole of modern papal history.

We all want to scream: this not true!

Some bloggers and commentators have made a minor sport out of showing how Francis is not doing anything that Benedict didn't do, that there is nothing truly amazing out of any of this. It is just being interpreted in a different way. Yes, the two papacies have different styles about them, but this does not amount to the Jacobin upheaval that the press hopes for.

What is extremely tricky here -- and it becomes nearly a full-time job for watchers of Church issues -- is to somehow separate the press spin from the reality. That is not always easy.

The key, he adds, is that this Francis vs. Benedict riff has turned into a "template" into which far too many reporters are now jamming a few facts, while ignoring just as many additional facts or even more. As critics of the press often do, Tucker chalks this up to laziness and a desire to sell newspapers.

In the end, the actual content of Benedict's work is being ignored. Key facts are missing in the coverage. All that matters is that some of his actions were praised by Catholic traditionalists and that is bad.

The narrative of Benedict XVI was that he was a closed-minded reactionary dedicated to cracking down and turning back the clock. After that, nothing else mattered. It didn't matter how much he reached out, how much he liberalized the ritual, how much he displayed openness, praised religious freedom, called for social justice and the like. The narrative stuck.

So it has been with Francis. The press decided early on that he is humble, spontaneous, liberal, broad, pro-poor, tolerant, and ready to revise doctrine. After that, the fix was in. Everything he does is interpreted in that light. Every headline presumes that underlying template. It's the only story.

Read it all. And note, in particular, this comment attached to the original essay from a reader in the native land of Pope Francis. Ironic.

I agree with what you say 100%. Here, in Argentina, the press is super hyped about everything the pope does, labeling every detail as "a first," "a new way," "unprecedented," "heart warming," "decontracté" -- a lot more of absurdities.

When Cardinal Bergoglio was our archbishop, the same media outlets yawned in disdain when he talked.

Discuss the journalism of all this.

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